Last month, India and France signed a $8.7 billion contract for the delivery of 36 French-made Rafale fighter jets. These will make up the eighth type of aircraft in India’s fleet, alongside its Sukhoi-30MKI, Jaguar, Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Mirage 2000, MiG-29, MiG-27, and MiG-21 jets.
But New Delhi wants to add a ninth fighter type to its fleet, and it has sent invitations to overseas defense firms.
"This is very much on the table and I’m sure whoever gives the best deal [will win.] All the aircraft are very capable, so it will depend upon who provides the best transfer of technology; and, of course, the price tag. It’s on the table; nothing is decided as yet," Indian Air Force (IAF) chief Arup Raha said, according to the Diplomat.
"This will not be just licensed manufacture. It will be proper transfer of technology. Also, India will become a hub for manufacturing, as well as maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) for other air forces in the region."
Two firms seem to be under top consideration.
"If it is single-engine fighter, there are mainly two: Lockheed Martin and Saab," said Muthumanikam Matheswaran, retired IAF Air Marshal, according to Defense News.
A decision will be made based on a variety of factors.
"It would also be reasonable to infer that India is mulling a Government-to-Government (G2G) deal," said Amit Cowshish, a former financial advisor with the Indian Ministry of Defense, according to Defense News.
"Selection will, of course, be based on trials and price offered by the manufacturers from these countries."
Ultimately, the new aircraft will be used to replace the aging MiGs.
The technology used to build the new aircraft could, in theory, be applied to other projects.
"A long-term partnership that involves large production in India and addresses exports jointly will result in significant technology flow," Matheswaran added.
"The partnership should be mandated such that maximum advantage is gained for Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) development."
Separately, the IAF is in talks with Saab to develop an upgraded variant of the Tejas LCA.
"We should be able to start production of this aircraft by 2020-21; and in another five-seven years, we’ll have 80 Tejas Mark 1A fighters," Raha said.